I don’t know a lot about our planet’s auroras. I do know they appear in the Arctic and Antarctic. I read that they are caused by solar winds pushing out electronic particles that then enter our atmosphere. I really don’t understand it myself. Apparently the electronic particles are always entering our atmosphere, so the “atmospheric weather” that causes the auroras are always present. We just can’t see them unless it is dark enough and the skies are clear and they are entering just so.
Please don’t ask me to explain those last few sentences. I really don’t understand them myself. What I do know is that there are “apps” that predict the possibility of seeing the Lights. And that “possibility” is the operative word here. The appearance of the Lights is almost always a possibility, almost never a certainty. It reminds me of the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus as told by the author of the Gospel of John. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NRSV)
Earlier in October when there was an “Aurora alert” I went out to Sandy Point at about 10 pm and watched for the Lights for about an hour. Then I headed home. The next day I learned the Lights didn’t come out until about 3 a.m., and when they did, they were spectacular. I slept through it all.
So when the alert came out Halloween weekend I was determined not to miss anything. I got up at 3 am Saturday morning and went back to Sandy Point. I kept a lonely vigil until 5:00. Nothing.
All day Saturday I was groggy from my lack of sleep. My body has gotten used to a full eight and a half hours in the last twenty months. But Saturday night I headed back out to watch. And since I heard from my colleague Dave that he would be at Holmes Harbor, I went there to join him. My friend, colleague and housemate Meighan came too.
We met up at 6:00, with the prediction that the lights would come between 6:30 and 8:00. I was delighted to discover another friend there watching too. We had a fine take-out dinner from Freeland’s Rocket Taco. We watched the light fade across the water. We talked about the Lights and about all that was happening in our lives. We watched the stars appear and Meighan named the constellations and told us how she learned them as a child at her family cabin on a lake in eastern Washington. It was a very pleasant time.
But by 8:00 we still hadn’t seen the lights. By then the predictive model had changed. “Maybe around 4 a.m.”.
“The (solar) wind blows where it chooses.”
I went home to finish baking cookies for church the next day and to get some sleep. The predicted Lights never appeared. By Sunday night the clouds and rain had come, and the chance to see the Light show was gone.
But last night when I put the sheep up the sky was clear. I could see stars. I checked the app and conditions looked right. Maybe?
Before heading out, I looked at the Facebook page of the “Washington Auroras” group I had just joined. I wanted to see what the experts said. That’s when I discovered the forecast I was looking at was for Thursday morning, not Thursday night. And briefly in the early hours of yesterday the skies had cleared. There were some spectacular photos on that FB page. But I had been asleep.
I will keep chasing the Lights, and some day I hope to see them. But this month’s adventures have reminded me again (why do I so easily forget?) that whether I see the Lights or not, there is beauty all around me. In a dark night sky. In a calm Salish Sea. In a good meal. In deep conversations with friends. In the awareness that Lights and the wind and the Spirit are not mine to control. But they are there.